Fact Sheet: 2011, the Arab Spring & Libya

As detailed in our previous fact sheet, the Arab Spring began a decade ago in the unlikeliest of countries, Tunisia. The Tunisians inspired others across the Middle East and North Africa to take action. They were met with repression and counter-revolution across the region.


January – News of unrest in Libya. The nation’s leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, appears on national television to condemn the uprising in Tunisia. Following the arrest of human rights activists in Libya’s second city, Benghazi protests against the regime take place.

February – With a death toll in the hundreds, one of Gaddafi’s sons defends his father on television. Mirroring other MENA cities, the uprising reaches central Tripoli.

March – Under threat from the US, UK and France, Gaddafi warns that his country will resist the proposed imposition of a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace. The no-fly zone idea wind the support of the United Nations.

Dubbed Operation Odyssey Dawn, the assault on Libya led by the US, UK and France is the biggest attack on an Arab government since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. NATO takes military command of the no-fly zone.

On the ground, anti-regime forces advance on Gaddafi’s home city, Sirte, recapturing several towns without resistance en route.

April – US President Barrack Obama commits his country to military action until Gaddafi is toppled. The Libyan government accuses NATO of trying to assassinate Gaddafi extra-judicially after two air raids in three days on his premises in Tripoli.

May – The British embassy in Tripoli is set alight and other Western missions are looted in retaliation against NATO air raids.

August – The National Transitional Council is established and declares that its cabinet will move from Benghazi to Tripoli to assume power.

September – From a hideout, Gaddafi vows never to leave “the land of his ancestors.” In Tripoli, a mass grave containing 1,270 bodies is uncovered.

October – Trapped by NATO air raids, then discovered by rebel forces, Gaddafi is brutally murdered, with his final moments broadcast to the world. US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, hailed the assassination by invoking Caesar, declaring on televisions: “We came, we saw, he died.”

Gaddafi is buried alongside his son following a period of days in which his body is left to decompose in public. Another son, Saif, is arrested while attempting to flee to Niger.

November – By the end of the year, all the prominent Gaddafi regime officials are killed, imprisoned or in exile. The sudden power vacuum catastrophically destabilises Libya and leaves the North African country open to an influx of migrants seeking to reach Europe that is accompanied by a devastating human toll.

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